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Decibel Equivalent Tables: What Does Each Volume Sound Like?

A Car Speaker

Is the whole concept of decibels (dB) foreign to you? Do you have a vague idea that more dB equals a louder sound, but no clue what a decibel is or how many you want out of your car’s sound system?

We’re here to help. In this article, we’ll explain exactly what a decibel is, and what levels of dB correspond to which real-world sounds.

What is a decibel?

The decibel is the standard international unit used to measure volume. One decibel (1 dB) isn’t equal to anything that’s easy to describe in the real world — it comes from a complex equation involving pressure that we don’t need to get into right now.

Instead, just remember that decibels are relative and logarithmic. Relative means that dB is only a useful measurement when compared to other dB values. Logarithmic means that, for every 10 dB, the corresponding real-world volume doubles. 40 dB is twice as loud as 30 dB, and half as loud as 50 dB.

Decibel Meter
Image credit: Kerry Raymond, Wikimedia Commons

Decibel Equivalent Tables

Inaudible Range (Less than 10 dB)

Since it’s logarithmic and relative, the decibel scale is also limitless in both directions and doesn’t stop at 0. Zero dB is theoretically the lowest limit of human perception, but in practice, a human will rarely be able to hear a sound below 10 dB.

Inaudible Range (Less than 10 dB)

dB RatingSoundExposure (hours per day)
-9World’s quietest room
0Lowest audible sound to human ear
10Average silent room

 

Barely Audible Range (10 to 40 dB)

You’ll be able to hear these, but it will take a lot of effort, and there can’t be any distractions.

Barely Audible Range (10 to 40 dB)

dB RatingSoundExposure (hours per day)
13Hum from a light bulb (switched on)
15Pin drop on solid floor from 1 meter
30Nighttime in rural area
35Main hall of a library
40Human whispering
45Hum from a refrigerator

 

Normal Range (40 to 85 dB)

Listening to these sounds poses little or no risk to the average person. 85 decibels is the highest volume that poses no health dangers.

Normal Range (40 to 85 dB)

dB RatingSoundExposure (hours per day)
50Corporate office environment
55Rainfall; light traffic (closed windows)
60Average conversation between adults
65Acoustic piano; moderate traffic
70Busy restaurant
80Vacuum cleaner; hairdryer
85Garbage disposal; school cafeteria

 

Dangerous Range (85 to 115 dB)

Sounds at this range can damage your hearing, either immediately or through prolonged exposure. Without ear protection, nobody should be exposed to 90 dB for more than 8 hours per day, 100 dB for 2 hours, 105 dB for 1 hour, or 110 dB for more than half an hour.

Dangerous Range (85 to 115 dB)

dB RatingSoundExposure (hours per day)
90Tractor8
95Truck or motorcycle engine4
100Subway platform at rush hour; orchestra from the first row2
105Pneumatic drill; car stereo at max. volume1
110Rock concert from the gallery; car stereo with two 6×9 speakers and 100 watts0.5
115Power saw; backhoe; ambulance siren0.3

 

Serious Injury Range (115 dB to 140 dB)

There is no safe amount of exposure to volumes in this range. Being near a sound above 115 dB for any length of time without protection can cause permanent hearing damage. At this level, you’ll also begin to feel the sounds in parts of your body other than your ears.

Serious Injury Range (115 dB to 140 dB)

dB RatingSoundExposure (hours per day)
120Rock concert from the front row; thunderclap overheadØ
125Cymbal crash; loudest possible human screamØ
130Jet engine taking off; air raid sirenØ
135FirecrackerØ
140Shotgun blast directly beside earØ

 

Deadly Range (140 dB to 200 dB)

Forget hearing damage — these sounds will give you permanent everything damage. Below about 170 dB, ear protection can still save you, but store-bought earplugs and earmuffs won’t be enough. You’re also likely to start having other problems with whatever is creating the noise (here’s a hint: don’t stand next to a pound of TNT).

Deadly Range (140 dB to 200 dB)

dB RatingSoundExposure (hours per day)
150Formula One car at full throttleØ
160Inside jet engine or rock concert speaker binØ
1707,000-horsepower engineØ
1801 pound of TNT detonating 15 feet awayØ
190Grenade blast epicenterØ
200Causes immediate deathØ

 

Extreme Range (more than 200 dB)

Since we’ve already established that being near sounds above 200 decibels will kill you instantly, these are just here as fun facts. Note that since it’s not possible to put a decibel meter near many of these events and have it survive, dB levels above 200 are mostly theoretical.

Extreme Range (more than 200 dB)

dB RatingSoundExposure (hours per day)
210.6Epicenter of a magnitude 2.0 earthquakeØ
213Sonic boomØ
214Space shuttle launchØ
215U.S.S. New Jersey firing all 9 of its 16-inch gunsØ
235.2Epicenter of a magnitude 5.0 earthquakeØ
243Volume of the largest non-nuclear explosion in history – the “British Bang” which in 1947 destroyed an entire island with 6,700 tons of ordnanceØ
248Center of the atomic bomb blasts at Hiroshima and NagasakiØ
282Center of the Tsar Bomba test conducted by the Soviet Union, believed to be the loudest sound ever created by humansØ
286Center of the Mount Saint Helens volcanic eruptionØ
310Theoretical volume of nature’s loudest sound, the eruption of Indonesia’s Krakatoa volcanoØ

While no modern instruments recorded the event, barometers fluctuated at levels that suggest Krakatoa produced a 190-dB sound from 100 miles away. Remember, 190 DB is what you hear when a grenade explodes next to your face. Krakatoa was no joke.

Volume Effects on the Human Body

Above 140 dB, sounds cause humans physical distress: shortness of breath, nausea, nosebleeds, and other severe discomforts. Below that level, they can still cause permanent problems, including hearing loss and persistent tinnitus. Make sure you always have hearing protection, no matter how badass your car’s rig might be.

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